Posts tagged ‘advertising’

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: the signs were there for years, if one only looked


Facebook’s woes over Cambridge Analytica have only prompted one reaction from me: I told you so. While I never seized upon this example, bravely revealed to us by whistleblower Christopher Wylie and reported by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian, Facebook has shown itself to be callous about private data, mining preferences even after users have opted out, as I have proved on more than one occasion on this blog. They don’t care what your preferences are, and for a long time changed them quietly when you weren’t looking.
   And it’s nothing new: in October 2010, Emily Steel wrote, in The Wall Street Journal, about a data firm called Rapleaf that harvested Facebook information to target political advertisements (hat tip here to Jack Martin Leith).
   Facebook knew of a data breach years ago and failed to report it as required under law. The firm never acts, as we have seen, when everyday people complain. It only acts when it faces potential bad press, such as finally ceasing, after nearly five years, its forced malware downloads after I tipped off Wired’s Louise Matsakis about them earlier this year. Soon after Louise’s article went live, the malware downloads ceased.
   Like all these problems, if the stick isn’t big enough, Facebook will just hope things go away, or complain, as it did today, that it’s the victim. Sorry, you’re not. You’ve been complicit more than once, and violating user privacy, as I have charged on this blog many times, is part of your business practice.
   In this environment, I am also not surprised that US$37,000 million has been wiped off Facebook’s value and CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth decline by US$5,000 million.
   Those who kept buying Facebook shares, I would argue, were unreasonably optimistic. The writing surely was on the wall in January at the very latest (though I would have said it was much earlier myself), when I wrote, ‘All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.’
   This sounds like my going back to my very first Medinge meeting in 2002, when we concluded, at the end of the conference, three simple words: ‘Finance is broken.’ It’s not a useful measure of a company, certainly not the human relationships that exist within. But brand has been giving us this heads-up for a long time: if you can’t trust a company, then it follows that its brand equity is reduced. That means its overall value is reduced. And time after time, finance follows what brand already knew. Even those who tolerate dishonesty—and millions do—will find it easy to depart from a product or service along with the rest of the mob. There’s less and less for them to justify staying with it. The reasons get worn down one by one: I’m here because of my kids—till the kids depart; I’m here because of my friends—till the friends depart. If you don’t create transparency, you risk someone knocking back the wall.
   We always knew Facebook’s user numbers were bogus, considering how many bots there are on the system. It would be more when people wanted to buy advertising, and it would be less when US government panels charged with investigating Facebook were asking awkward questions. I would love to know how many people are really on there, and the truth probably lies between the two extremes. Facebook probably should revise its claimed numbers down by 50 per cent.
   It’s a very simplified analysis—of course brand equity is made up of far more than trust—and doubters will point to the fact Facebook’s stock had been rising through 2017.
   But, as I said, finance follows brand, and Facebook is fairly under assault from many quarters. It has ignored many problems for over a decade, its culture borne of arrogance, and you can only do this for so long before people wise up. In the Trump era, with the US ever more divided, there were political forces that even Facebook could not ignore. Zuckerberg won’t be poor, and Facebook, Inc. has plenty of assets, so they’re not going away. But Facebook, as we know it, isn’t the darling that it was a decade ago, and what we are seeing, and what I have been talking about for years, are just the tip of the iceberg.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, leadership, media, politics, technology, UK, USA | 4 Comments »

Facebook overestimates and underestimates reach depending on the story it wants to tell


Funny, isn’t it? Last year, Facebook was busted for claiming that in some demographics, their ads could reach more people than there were people. When it comes to the US’s Russia probe, they claim their ads reached far, far fewer people: they initially claimed they reached 10 million, but Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, found that they had in fact reached hundreds of millions.
   Facebook: fudging since 2004.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, politics, USA | 4 Comments »

It’s as though Statistics New Zealand set up this year’s census to fail


You have to wonder if the online census this year has been intentionally bad so that the powers that be can call it a flop and use it as an excuse to delay online voting, thereby disenfranchising younger voters.
   It’s the Sunday before the census and I await my access code: none was delivered, and I have three addresses at which this could be received (two entries to one dwelling, and a PO box). If it’s not at any of these, then that’s pretty poor. I have been giving them a chance on the expectation it would arrive, but now this is highly unlikely.
   And when you go to the website, they claim my browser’s incompatible. I disagree, since I’m within the parameters they state.

   This screen shot was taken after I filled out a request for the access code yesterday. Statistics NZ tells me the code will now take a week to arrive, four days after census night. Frankly, that’s not good enough.
   While I’ve seen some TV commercials for the census, I’ve seen no online advertising for it, and nothing in social media. My other half has seen no TVCs for it.
   Going up to the census people at the Newtown Fair today, I was handed a card with their telephone number and asked to call them tomorrow.
   You’d think they’d have people there at the weekend when we’re thinking about these things. Let’s hope I remember tomorrow.
   And I’m someone who cares about my civic duty here. What about all those who don’t? Are we going to see a record population drop?
   I’m not alone in this.

   They’ll be very busy, as Sarah Bickerton Tweeted earlier today (the replies are worth checking out):

and there are a lot of people among her circles, myself included, who don’t have the access code. Kat’s story is particularly interesting (edited for brevity):

   Online systems are robust and can be successful.
   It’s just that they need to be backed up by people with a will to make things succeed, not people who are so intent on making them fail.

PS.: Jonathan Mosen’s experience with this census as a blind person makes my issues seem insignificant. Fortunately, for him, Statistics New Zealand came to the party.—JY

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Posted in internet, marketing, New Zealand, politics, technology | No Comments »

The path of least resistance: we humans aren’t discerning enough sometimes


I came across a thread at Tedium where Christopher Marlow mentions Pandora Mail as an email client that took Eudora as a starting-point, and moved the game forward (e.g. building in Unicode support).
   As some of you know, I’ve been searching for an email client to use instead of Eudora (here’s something I wrote six years ago, almost to the day), but worked with the demands of the 2010s. I had feared that Eudora would be totally obsolete by now, in 2018, but for the most part it’s held up; I remember having to upgrade in 2008 from a 1999 version and wondering if I only had about nine years with the new one. Fortunately, it’s survived longer than that.
   Brana Bujenović’s Pandora Mail easily imported everything from Eudora, including the labels I had for the tables of contents, and the personalities I had, but it’s not 100 per cent perfect, e.g. I can’t resize type in my signature file. However, finally I’ve found an email client that does one thing that no other client does: I can resize the inbox and outbox to my liking, and have them next to each other. In the mid-1990s, this was one of Eudora’s default layouts, and it amazed me that this very efficient way of displaying emails never caught on. I was also heartened to learn from Tedium that Eudora was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s email client of choice (‘The most important thing I use is Eudora, and that’s discontinued’). I’m in good company.
   However, this got me thinking how most users tolerate things, without regard, in my opinion, to what’s best for them. It’s the path of least resistance, except going down this path makes life harder for them.
   The three-panel layout is de rigueur for email clients today—all the ones I’ve downloaded and even paid good money for have followed this. Thunderbird, Mailbird, the oddly capitalized eM. All have had wonderful reviews and praise, but none allow you to configure the in- and outbox sizes. Hiri’s CEO says that’s something they’re looking at but right now, they’re not there, either. Twenty-plus years since I began using Eudora and no one has thought of doing this, and putting the power of customization with the user.
   But when did this three-panel layout become the standard? I can trace this back to Outlook Express, bundled with Windows in the late 1990s, and, if I’m not mistaken, with Macs as well. I remember working with Macs and Outlook was standard. I found the layout limiting because you could only see a few emails in the table of contents at any given time, and I usually have hundreds of messages come in. I didn’t want to scroll, and in the pre-mouse-wheel environment of the 1990s, neither would you. Yet most people put up with this, and everyone seems to have followed Outlook Express’s layout since. It’s a standard, but only one foisted on people who couldn’t be bothered thinking about their real requirements. It wasn’t efficient, but it was free (or, I should say, the licence fee was included in the purchase of the OS or the computer).
   ‘It was free’ is also the reason Microsoft Word overtook WordPerfect as the standard word processor of the 1990s, and rivals that followed, such as Libre Office and Open Office, had to make sure that they included Word converters. I could never understand Word and again, my (basic) needs were simple. I wanted a word processor where the fonts and margins would stay as they were set till I told it otherwise. Word could never handle that, and, from what I can tell, still can’t. Yet people tolerated Word’s quirks, its random decisions to change font and margins on you. I shudder to think how many hours were wasted on people editing their documents—Word can’t even handle columns very easily (the trick was usually to type things in a single column, then reformat—so much for a WYSIWYG environment then). I remember using WordPerfect as a layout programme, using its Reveal Codes feature—it was that powerful, even in DOS. Footnoting remains a breeze with WordPerfect. But Word overtook WordPerfect, which went from number one to a tiny, niche player, supported by a few diehards like myself who care about ease of use and efficiency. Computers, to me, are tools that should be practical, and of course the UI should look good, because that aids practicality. Neither Outlook nor Word are efficient. On a similar note I always found Quattro Pro superior to Excel.
   With Mac OS X going to 64-bit programs and ending support for 32-bit there isn’t much choice out there; I’ve encountered Mac Eudora users who are running out of options; and WordPerfect hasn’t been updated for Mac users for years. To a large degree this answers why the Windows environment remains my choice for office work, with Mac and Linux supporting OSs. Someone who comes up with a Unicode-supporting word processor that has the ease of use of WordPerfect could be on to something.
   Then you begin thinking what else we put up with. I find people readily forget or forgive the bugs on Facebook, for example. I remember one Twitter conversation where a netizen claimed I encountered more Facebook bugs than anyone else. I highly doubt that, because her statement is down to short or unreliable memories. I seem to recall she claimed she had never experienced an outage—when in fact everyone on the planet did, and it was widely reported in the media at the time. My regular complaints about Facebook are to do with how the website fails to get the basics right after so many years. Few, I’m willing to bet, will remember that no one’s wall updated on January 1, 2012 if you lived east of the US Pacific time zone, because the staff at Facebook hadn’t figured out that different time zones existed. So we already know people put up with websites commonly that fail them; and we also know that privacy invasions don’t concern hundreds of millions, maybe even thousands of millions, of people, and the default settings are “good enough”.
   Keyboards wider than 40 cm are bad for you as you reach unnecessarily far for the mouse, yet most people tolerate 46 cm unless they’re using their laptops. Does this also explain the prevalence of Toyota Camrys, which one friend suggested was the car you bought if you wanted to ‘tell everyone you had given up on life’? It probably does explain the prevalence of automatic-transmission vehicles out there: when I polled my friends, the automatic–manual divide was 50–50, with many in the manual camp saying, ‘But I own an automatic, because I had no choice.’ If I didn’t have the luxury of a “spare car”, then I may well have wound up with something less than satisfactory—but I wasn’t going to part with tens of thousands of dollars and be pissed off each time I got behind the wheel. We don’t demand, or we don’t make our voices heard, so we get what vendors decide we want.
   Equally, you can ask why many media buyers always buy with the same magazines, not because it did their clients any good, but because they were safe bets that wouldn’t get them into trouble with conservative bosses. Maybe the path of least resistance might also explain why in many democracies, we wind up with two main parties that attract the most voters—spurred by convention which even some media buy into. (This also plays into mayoral elections!)
   Often we have ourselves to blame when we put up with inferior products, because we haven’t demanded anything better, or we don’t know anything better exists, or simply told people what we’d be happiest with. Or that the search for that product costs us in time and effort. Pandora has had, as far as I can fathom, no press coverage (partly, Brana tells me, by design, as they don’t want to deal with the traffic just yet; it’s understandable since there are hosting costs involved, and he’d have to pay for it should it get very popular).
   About the only place where we have been discerning seems to be television consumption. So many people subscribe to cable, satellite, Amazon Prime, or Netflix, and in so doing, support some excellent programming. Perhaps that is ultimately our priority as a species. We’re happy to be entertained—and that explains those of us who invest time in social networking, too. Anything for that hit of positivity, or that escapism as we let our minds drift.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, design, internet, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »

Zuckerberg wants to fix Facebook: too little, too late


WTF: welcome to Facebook. (Creative Commons photograph.)

Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to fix Facebook in 2018 is, in my opinion, too little, too late.
   However, since I ceased updating my Facebook profile last month, I’ve come across many people who tell me the only reason they stay on it is to keep in touch with family and friends, so Zuckerberg’s intention to refocus his site on that is the right thing to do. He’s also right to admit that Facebook has made ‘errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.’
   Interestingly, Facebook’s stock has fallen since his announcement, wiping milliards off Zuckerberg’s own fortune. Investors are likely nervous that this refocusing will hurt brands who pay to advertise on the platform, who might now reconsider using it. It’s a decidedly short-term outlook based on short-term memory, but that’s Wall Street for you. Come to think of it, that’s humanity for you.
   But let’s look at this a bit more dispassionately. Despite my no longer updating Facebook, I’m continuing to get a lot of friend requests. And those requests are coming from bots. Facebook hasn’t fixed its bot problem—far from it. This reached epidemic levels in 2014, and it’s continued in 2018—four years and one US presidential election later. As discussed earlier on this blog, Facebook has been found to have lied about user numbers: it claims more people in certain demographics than there are people. If its stock was to fall, that should have done it. But nothing happened: investors are keen to maintain delusions if it helps their interests. But it needs to be fixed.
   If Zuckerberg is sincere, Facebook also needs to fix its endless databasing issues and to come clean on its bogus malware warnings, forcing people to download “scanners” that are hidden on their computers. This should have hit the tech media but no one seems to have the guts to report on it. That’s not a huge deal, I suppose, since it has meant tens of thousands have come to my blog instead, but again, that was a big red flag that, if reported, should have had investors worried. And that needs to be fixed.
   Others I’ve discussed this with inform me that Facebook needs to do a far better job of removing porn, including kiddie porn, and if it weren’t for a lot of pressure, it tends to leave bullying and sexist comments up as well.
   All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.
   But the notion that businesses will suddenly desert Facebook is an interesting one to me, because, frankly, Facebook has been a lousy referrer of traffic, and has been for years. We have little financial incentive to remain on the site for some of our ventures.
   Those of us with functioning memories will remember when Facebook killed the sharing from our fan pages by 90 per cent overnight some years ago. The aim was to get us to pay for sharing, and for many businesses, that worked.
   But it meant users who wanted to hear from these brands no longer did, and I believe that’s where the one of the first declines began.
   People support brands for many reasons but I’m willing to bet that their respective advertising budgets isn’t one of them. They follow them for their values and what they represent. Or they follow them for their products and services. Those who couldn’t afford to advertise, or opted to spend outside social media, lost a link with those users. And I believe users lost one of their reasons for remaining on Facebook, because their favourite brands were no longer showing up in their news feeds.
   (Instagram, incidentally, has the opposite problem: thanks to Facebook’s suspect profiling, users are being bombarded with promotions from companies they are not fans of; Instagram’s claim that they rely on Facebook’s ad preferences, and Facebook’s claim that you can opt out of these, are also highly questionable. I get that people should be shown ads from companies they could become fans of; but why annoy them to this extent? Instagram also tracks the IP where you are surfing from, and ignores the geographical location you freely give either Instagram or Facebook for advertising purposes.)
   What then surfaced in news feeds? Since Facebook became Digg, namely a repository of links (something I also said many years ago, long before the term ‘fake news’ was coined), feeds became littered with news articles (real and bogus) and people began to be “bubbled”, seeing things that supported their own world-views, because Facebook’s profiling sent those things to them. As T. S. Eliot once wrote, ‘Nothing pleases people more than to go on thinking what they have always thought, and at the same time imagine that they are thinking something new and daring: it combines the advantage of security and the delight of adventure.’
   This, as Facebook has discovered, was dangerous to democracy and entire groups—people have died because of it—and thinking people questioned whether there was much value staying on the site.
   From memory, and speaking for myself, Facebook probably had the balance of personal, brand and news right in 2010.
   But I doubt that even if Facebook were to go back to something like the turn of the decade, it will entice me back. It’s a thing of the past, something that might have been fun once, like Myspace. It didn’t take long to wean me off that.
   Even Zuckerberg notes that technology should decentralize and democratize, and that big tech has failed people on this front. I can foresee an attempt to decentralize Facebook, but with a caveat: they’ll want to continue gathering data on us as part of the deal. It’ll be an interesting gamble to take, unless it’s willing to give up its biggest asset: its claim to understanding individual profiles, even if many of its accounts aren’t human.
   To me, the brand is tarnished. Every measure we have at Medinge Group suggests to me Facebook is a poor corporate citizen, and it’s going to take not just a turnaround in database stability or the enforcement of T&Cs, but a whole reconsideration of its raison d’être to serve the masses. Honesty and transparency can save it—two things that I haven’t seen Facebook exhibit much of in the 10-plus years I have used it.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 12 Comments »

Being an optimist for a better post-Google, post-Facebook era


Interesting to get this perspective on ‘Big Tech’ from The Guardian, on how it’s become tempting to blame the big Silicon Valley players for some of the problems we have today. The angle Moira Weigel takes is that there needs to be more democracy in the system, where workers need to unite and respecting those who shape the technologies that are being used.
   I want to add a few far simpler thoughts.
   At the turn of the century, our branding profession was under assault from No Logo and others, showing that certain brands were not what they were cracked up to be. Medinge Group was formed in part because we, as practitioners, saw nothing wrong with branding per se, and that the tools could be used for good. Not everyone was Enron or Nike. There are Patagonia and Dilmah. That led to the original brand manifesto, on what branding should accomplish. (I was generously given credit for authoring this at one point, but I was simply the person who put the thoughts of my colleagues into eight points. In fact, we collectively gathered our ideas into eight groups, so I can’t even take credit for the fact there are eight points.)
   In 2017, we may look at Über’s sexism or Facebook’s willingness to accept and distribute malware-laden ads, and charge tech with damaging the fabric of society. Those who dislike President Trump in the US want someone to blame, and Facebook’s and Google’s contributions to their election in 2016 are a matter of record. But it’s not that online advertising is a bad thing. Or that social media are bad things. The issue is that the players aren’t socially responsible: none of them exist for any other purpose than to make their owners and shareholders rich, and the odd concession to not doing evil doesn’t really make up for the list of misdeeds that these firms add to. Many of them have been recorded over the years on this very blog.
   Much of what we have been working toward at Medinge is showing that socially responsible organizations actually do better, because they find accord with their consumers, who want to do business or engage with those who share their values; and, as Nicholas Ind has been showing in his latest book, Branding Inside Out, these players are more harmonious internally. In the case of Stella McCartney, sticking to socially responsible values earns her brand a premium—and she’s one of the wealthiest fashion designers in the world.
   I just can’t see some of the big tech players acting the same way. Google doesn’t pay much tax, for instance, and the misuse of Adwords aside, there are allegations that it hasn’t done enough to combat child exploitation and it has not been a fair player when it comes to rewarding and acknowledging media outlets that break the news, instead siding with corporate media. Google may have open-source projects out there, but its behaviour is old-school corporatism these days, a far cry from its first five years when even I would have said they were one of the good guys.
   Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, though I attempted to do so here, but it can be summed up as: a company that will do nothing unless it faces embarrassment from enough people in a position of power. We’ve seen it tolerate kiddie porn and sexual harassment, giving both a “pass” when reported.
   Yet, for all that they make, it would be reasonable to expect that they put more people on the job in places where it mattered. The notion that three volunteers monitor complaints of child exploitation videos at YouTube is ridiculous but, for anyone who has complained about removing offensive content online, instantly believable; why there were not more is open to question. Anyone who has ventured on to a Google forum to complain about a Google product will also know that inaction is the norm there, unless you happen to get to someone senior and caring enough. Similarly, increasing resources toward monitoring advertising, and ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with would be helpful.
   Google’s failure to remove content mills from its News is contributing to “fake news”, yet its method of combatting that appears to be taking people away from legitimate media and ranking corporate players more highly.
   None of these are the actions of companies that want to do right by netizens.
   As Weigel notes, there’s a cost to abandoning Facebook and Google. But equally there are opportunities if these firms cannot provide the sort of moral, socially responsible leadership modern audiences demand. In my opinion, they do not actually command brand loyalty—a key ingredient of brand equity—if true alternatives existed.
   Duck Duck Go might only have a fraction of the traffic Google gets in search, but despite a good mission its results aren’t always as good, and its search index is smaller. But we probably should look to it as a real alternative to search, knowing that our support can help it grow and attract more investment. There is room for a rival to Google News that allows legitimate media and takes reports of fake news sites more seriously. If social media are democratizing—and there are signs that they are, certainly with some of the writings by Doc Searls and Richard MacManus—then there is room for people to form their own social networks that are decentralized, and where we hold the keys to our identity, able to take them wherever we please (Hubzilla is a prime example; you can read more about its protocol here). The internet can be a place which serves society.
   It might all come back to education; in fact, we might even say Confucius was right. If you’re smart enough, you’ll see a positive resource and decide that it would not be in the best interests of society to debase it. Civility and respect should be the order of the day. If these tools hadn’t been used by the privileged few to line their pockets at the expense of the many—or, for that matter, the democratic processes of their nations—wouldn’t we be in a better place? They capitalized on divisions in society (and even deepened them), when there is far more for all of us to gain if we looked to unity. Why should we allow the concentration of power (and wealth) to rest at the top of tech’s food chain? Right now, all I see of Google and Facebook’s brands are faceless, impersonal and detached giants, with no human accountability, humming on algorithms that are broken, and in Facebook’s case, potentially having databases that have been built on so much, that it doesn’t function properly any more. Yet they could have been so much more to society.
   Not possible to unseat such big players? We might have thought once that Altavista would remain the world’s biggest website; who knew Google would topple it in such a short time? But closer to home, and speaking for myself, I see The Spinoff and Newsroom as two news media brands that engender far greater trust than Fairfax’s Stuff or The New Zealand Herald. I am more likely to click on a link on Twitter if I see it is to one of the newer sites. They, too, have challenged the status quo in a short space of time, something which I didn’t believe would be possible a decade ago when a couple of people proposed that I create a locally owned alternative.
   We don’t say email is bad because there is spam. We accept that the good outweighs the bad and, for the most part, we have succeeded in building filters that get rid of the unwanted. We don’t say the web is bad because it has allowed piracy or pornography; its legitimate uses far outweigh its shady ones. But we should be supporting, or trying to find, new ways to advertise, innovate and network (socially or otherwise). Right now, I’m willing to bet that the next big thing (and it might not even be one player, but a multitude of individuals working in unison) is one where its values are so clear and transparent that they inspire us to live our full potential. I remain an optimist when it comes to human potential, if we set our sights on making something better.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, leadership, politics, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »

I don’t do paid blog posts here (so don’t ask)


I know we all get these emails from time to time, but they still annoy me.
   If ‘Peter’ had visited this blog, he would know that every single post since 2006 has been my own, unpaid, unsponsored thoughts. Why would I change that now?
   You may say it’s a fair question, and maybe in his case it is, if I had to be generous. Peter mightn’t have had the time to analyse every entry I’ve made.
   But it’s not just this one. Medinge gets these requests, too: again, it’s not something you would have asked if you had actually visited the site, when everything on the blog has been members-only, and when the philosophy of the organization would probably tell you that we couldn’t be bought or endorse any products.
   The most ridiculous would be Beyond Branding’s blog getting these requests—when that blog hasn’t been updated since 2006. We were still receiving requests in 2017.
   I know, some of these people found us through blog directories, and there was probably an email address tied to each entry.
   However, if they haven’t the courtesy to check us out, can I really trust that they would even pay up? And if Peter were legit, these unsolicited approaches have been coloured by the ridiculous ones we receive for a blog that hasn’t been updated in 11 (and almost 12) years.

Incidentally, our commercial publications do carry paid content, and advertorials (‘native advertising’), by law, are clearly marked as such.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing | 2 Comments »

YouTube under fire for child exploitation videos—with ‘three unpaid volunteers’ monitoring reports


The Murdoch Press has rightly kept its pressure up on Google, with a cover story in The Times, ‘Adverts fund paedophile habits’ on November 24 (the online version, behind a paywall, is here).
   Say what you will about its proprietor, but Murdochs have been happy to go after the misdeeds of Google: the earlier one I’ve cited on this blog was when Google was found to have hacked Iphones in 2012.
   This time, YouTube is under fire for videos of children that were attracting comments from pædophiles, forcing the company to switch off comments, but it’s already lost advertising from Mars, Cadbury, Adidas, Deutsche Bank, Diageo, HP, and Lidl.
   Buzzfeed has discovered even more disturbing content involving children, including from accounts that have earned YouTube’s verified symbol. Be prepared if you choose to click through: even the descriptions of the images are deeply unsettling.
   Buzzfeed noted:

On Tuesday afternoon, BuzzFeed News contacted YouTube regarding a number of verified accounts — each with millions of subscribers — with hundreds of disturbing videos showing children in distress. As of Wednesday morning, all the videos provided by BuzzFeed News, as well as the accounts, were suspended for violating YouTube’s rules …
   Many of the offending channels were even verified by YouTube — a process that the company says was done automatically as recently as 2016 …
   Before YouTube removed them, these live-action child exploitation videos were rampant and easy to find. What’s more, they were allegedly on YouTube’s radar: Matan Uziel — a producer and activist who leads Real Women, Real Stories (a platform for women to recount personal stories of trauma, including rape, sexual assault, and sex trafficking) and who provided BuzzFeed News with more than 20 examples of such videos — told BuzzFeed News that he tried multiple times to bring the videos to YouTube’s attention and that no substantive action was taken.
   On September 22, Uziel sent an email to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and three other Google employees (as well as FBI agents) expressing his concern about “tens of thousands of videos available on YouTube that we know are crafted to serve as eye candy for perverted, creepy adults, online predators to indulge in their child fantasies.” According to the email, which was reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Uziel included multiple screenshots of disturbing videos. Uziel also told BuzzFeed News he addressed the concerns about the videos early this fall in a Google Hangout with two Google communications staffers from the United Kingdom, and that Google expressed desire to address the situation. A YouTube spokesperson said that the company has no record of the September 22nd email but told BuzzFeed News that Uziel did email on September 13th with screenshots of offending videos. The company says it removed every video escalated by Uziel.

   I’m believe Uziel more, and I even believe that the 20 examples he provided to Buzzfeed were among the ones he escalated to Google. Unless he discovered them since, why would he show them to Buzzfeed while claiming that Google had been ineffective? Both The Times and Buzzfeed claim some of these abusive videos have each netted millions of views—and substantial sums for their creators.
   And people wonder why we don’t continue to operate a video channel there, instead opting for Vimeo (for my personal account) and Dailymotion (for Lucire).
   I don’t claim either is immune from this, but they seem to want to deal with harmful content more readily, principally because they’re not subject to the culture at Google and at Facebook, which appears to be: do nothing till you get into trouble publicly.
   LaQuisha St Redfern shared this link with me from The New York Times from a former Facebook employee, Sandy Parakilos, which can be summarized:

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, mentioned in an October interview with Axios that one of the ways the company uncovered Russian propaganda ads was by identifying that they had been purchased in rubles. Given how easy this was, it seems clear the discovery could have come much sooner than it did — a year after the election. But apparently Facebook took the same approach to this investigation as the one I observed during my tenure: react only when the press or regulators make something an issue, and avoid any changes that would hurt the business of collecting and selling data.

   This behaviour is completely in line with my own experience with the two firms. Google, long-time readers may recall, libelled our websites for a week in 2013 by claiming they had malware. It was alleged that there were only two people overseeing the malware warnings, something which has since been disproved by a colleague of mine who was in Google’s employ at the time.
   However, The Times alleges that YouTube monitoring of reported videos is in the hands of ‘just three unpaid volunteers’, hence they remained online.
   I have some sympathy for YouTube given the volume of video that’s uploaded every second, making the site impossible to police by humans.
   However, given how much the company earns off people—their advertising arm rakes in tens of thousands of millions a year—three unpaid volunteers is grossly negligent. If certain states’ attorneys-general had more balls, like the EU does, this could be something to investigate.
   There’s also not much excuse that a company with Google’s resources didn’t put more people on the job to create algorithms to get rid of this content.
   Once rid, Google needs to ensure that owners who are caught up with false positives have a real appeals’ process—not the dismal, ineffective one they had in place for Blogger in the late 2000s that, again, was only remedied on a case-by-case basis after a Reuter journalist had his blog removed. That can be done with human employees who can take an impartial look at things—not ones who are brainwashed into thinking that Google’s bots can never err, which is a viewpoint that many of Google’s forum volunteers possess, and are consequently blinded.
   Facebook’s inability to shut down fake accounts—I have alerted them to an ‘epidemic’ in 2014—has been dealt with elsewhere, and now it’s biting them in the wake of President Trump’s election.
   These businesses, which pay little tax, are clearly abusing their privilege. Since the mid-2000s, Google hasn’t been what I would consider a responsible corporate citizen, and I don’t think Facebook has ever been.

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Posted in business, internet, media, technology, UK, USA | 2 Comments »

Saving the internet from itself—Sir Tim Berners-Lee sees the same dangers


Above: The Intercept is well respected, yet Google cozying up to corporate media meant its traffic has suffered, according to Alternet.

There’s a select group of countries where media outlets are losing traffic, all because Facebook is experimenting with moving all news items out of the news feed and on to a separate page.
   Facebook knows that personal sharing is down 25 and 29 per cent year-on-year for the last two years, and wants to encourage people to stay by highlighting the personal updates. (It probably helped back in the day when everything you entered into Facebook had to begin with your name, followed by ‘is’.) In Slovakia, Serbia, Sri Lanka and three other countries, media have reported a 60 to 80 per cent fall in user engagement via Facebook, leading to a drop in traffic.
   We’ve never been big on Facebook as a commercial tool for our publications, and if this is the way of the future, then it’s just as well that our traffic hasn’t been reliant on them.
   A 60–80 per cent drop in engagement is nothing: earlier this decade, we saw a 90 per cent drop in reach with Lucire’s Facebook page. One day we were doing thousands, the next day we were doing hundreds. It never got back up to that level unless we had something go viral (which, thankfully, happens often enough for us to keep posting).
   Facebook purposely broke the algorithm for pages because page owners would then be forced to pay for shares, and as Facebook is full of fake accounts, many of whom go liking pages, then the more you pay, the less real engagement your page is going to get.
   We felt that if a company could be this dishonest, it really wasn’t worth putting money into it.
   It’s a dangerous platform for any publisher to depend on, and I’m feeling like we made the right decision.
   Also, we had a Facebook group for Lucire long before Facebook pages were invented, and as any of you know, when the latter emerged there was hardly any difference between the two. We felt it highly disloyal to ask our group members to decamp to a page, so we didn’t. Eventually we ceased updating the group.
   We all know that sites like Facebook have propagated “fake news”, including fictional news items designed as click-bait conceived by people who have no interest in, say, the outcome of the US presidential election. Macedonian teenagers created headlines to dupe Trump supporters, with one claiming that his friend can earn thousands per month from them when they click through to his website, full of Google Doubleclick ads.
   The Guardian reports that paid items haven’t suffered the drop, which tells me that if you’re in the fake-news business, you could do quite well from Facebook in certain places. In fact, we know in 2016 they were paying Facebook for ads.
   Conversely, if you are credible media, then maybe you really shouldn’t be seen on that platform if you want to protect your brand.
   Facebook says it has no plans to roll out the “split feed” globally, but then Facebook says a lot of things, while it does the exact opposite.
   Both Facebook and Google claim they are shutting down these accounts, but I know from first-hand experience that Facebook is lousy at identifying fakes, even when they have been reported by people like me and Holly Jahangiri. Each of us can probably find you a dozen fakes in about two minutes, fakes that we’ve reported to Facebook and which they have done nothing about. I’ve already said that in one night in 2014, I found 277 fake accounts—and that wasn’t an outlier. I suspect Facebook has similar problems identifying fake-news fan pages.
   Everyday people are losing out: independent media are suffering—except for the golden opportunity Facebook has presented the fake-news business.

This leads me on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s latest, where he is no longer as optimistic about his invention, the World Wide Web.
   ‘I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,’ he told The Guardian.
   The newspaper notes, ‘The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people’s attention.’
   Sir Tim continued, ‘The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned.’
   He’s also concerned with the US government’s moves to roll back ’net neutrality, which means big companies will have a greater say online and independent, diverse voices won’t. The ISPs will throttle websites that they don’t like, and we know this is going to favour the big players: AT&T already blocked Skype on the Iphone so it could make more money from phone calls.
   We’ve seen Google’s ad code manipulated first-hand where malware was served, leading to Google making false accusations against us and hurting our publications’ traffic for over a year afterwards.
   The ad industry is finding ways to combat this problem, but with Google the biggest player in this space, can we trust them?
   We also know that Google has been siding with corporate media for years—and to heck with the independent media who may have either broken the news or created something far more in-depth. I’ve seen this first-hand, where something like Stuff is favoured over us. That wasn’t the case at Google, say, six or seven years ago: if you have merit, they’ll send the traffic your way.
   Again, this doesn’t benefit everyday people if low-quality sites—even one-person blogs—have been permitted into Google News.
   Google claims it is fighting “fake news”, but it seems like it’s an excuse to shut down more independent media in favour of the corporates.

We spotted this a long time ago, but it’s finally hit Alternet, which some of my friends read. If your politics aren’t in line with theirs, then you might think this was a good thing. ‘Good on Google to shut down the fake news,’ you might say. However, it’s just as likely to shut down a site that does support your politics, for exactly the same reasons.
   I’m not going to make a judgement about Alternet’s validity here, but I will quote Don Hazen, Alternet’s executive editor: ‘We were getting slammed by Google’s new algorithm intended to fight “fake news.” We were losing millions of monthly visitors, and so was much of the progressive news media. Lost readership goes directly to the bottom line.’
   Millions. Now, we aren’t in the million-per-month club ourselves, but you’d think that if you were netting yourselves that many readers, you must have some credibility.
   Hazen notes that The Nation, Media Matters, The Intercept, and Salon—all respected media names—have been caught.
   Finally, someone at a much bigger website than the ones we run has written, ‘The more we dig, the more we learn about Google’s cozy relationship with corporate media and traditional forms of journalism. It appears that Google has pushed popular, high-traffic progressive websites to the margins and embraced corporate media, a move that seriously questions its fairness. Some speculate Google is trying to protect itself from critics of fake news at the expense of the valid independent outlets.’
   It’s not news, since we’ve had this happen to us for years, but it shows that Google is expanding its programme more and more, and some big names are being dragged down. I may feel vindicated on not relying on Facebook, but the fact is Google is a gatekeeper for our publication, and it’s in our interests to see it serve news fairly. Right now, it doesn’t.
   The danger is we are going to have an internet where corporate and fake-news agenda, both driven by profit, prevail.
   And that’s a big, big reason for us, as netizens, to be finding solutions to step away from large, Silicon Valley websites that yield far too much power. We might also support those government agencies who are investigating them and their use of our private information. And we should support those websites that are mapping news or offer an alternative search engine.
   As to social networking, we’ve long passed peak Facebook, and one friend suggests that since everything democratizes, maybe social networking sites will, too? In line with Doc Searls’s thoughts, we might be the ones who have a say on how our private information is to be used.
   There are opportunities out there for ethical players whose brands need a real nudge from us when they’re ready for prime-time. Medinge Group has been saying this since the turn of the century: that consumers will want to frequent businesses that have ethical principles, in part to reflect their own values. Millennials, we think, will particularly demand this. An advertising system that’s better than Google’s, a search engine that deals with news in a meritorious fashion, and social networking that’s better than Facebook’s, all driven by merit and quality, would be a massive draw for me right now—and they could even save the internet from itself.

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Posted in branding, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »

Google collects more enemies—we haven’t been critical enough of it


My complaints about Google over the years—and the battles I’ve had with them between 2009 and 2014—are a matter of record on this blog. It appears that Google has been making enemies who are much more important than me, and in this blog post I don’t mean the European Union, who found that the big G had been abusing its monopoly powers by giving its own properties priority placement in its own search results. (The EU, incidentally, had the balls to fine Google €2,420 million, or 2·5 per cent of Google’s revenues, unlike various US states’ attorneys-general a few years ago, who hit them with a $17 million bill, or four hours’ income for Google.)
   It’s Jon von Tetzchner, the co-founder and CEO of Vivaldi, who blogged on Monday how Google hasn’t been able to ‘resist the misuse of power.’
   Von Tetzchner was formerly at Opera, so he has had a lot of time in the tech world. Opera has been around longer than Google, and it was the first browser to incorporate Google search.
   As you’ve read over the years, I’ve reported on Google’s privacy breaches, its false accusations of malware on our sites, its favouring big sites over little ones in News, and (second-hand) the hacking of Iphones to gather user data. Google tax-dodging, meanwhile, has been reported elsewhere.
   It appears Google suspended Vivaldi’s Adwords campaigns without warning, and the timing is very suspicious.
   Right after von Tetzchner’s thoughts on Google’s data-gathering were published in Wired, all of Vivaldi’s Google Adwords campaigns were suspended, and Google’s explanations were vague, unreasonable and contradictory.
   Recently there were also revelations that Google had pressured a think-tank to fire someone critical of the company, according to The New York Times. Barry Lynn, ousted from the New America Foundation for praising the EU’s fine, accused the Foundation for placing Google’s money (it donates millions) ahead of its own integrity. Google denies the charge. He’s since set up Citizens Against Monopoly.
   It’s taken over half a decade for certain quarters to wake up to some of the things I’ve been warning people about. Not that long ago, the press was still praising Google Plus as a Facebook-killer, something I noted from the beginning would be a bad idea. It seems the EU’s courage in fining Google has been the turning point in forcing some to open their eyes. Until then, people were all too willing to drink the Google Kool-Aid.
   And we should be aware of what powerful companies like Google are doing.
   Two decades ago, my colleague Wally Olins wrote Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies Are Taking on Each Other’s Roles. There, he noted that corporations were adopting behaviours of nations and vice versa. Companies needed to get more involved in social responsibility as they became more powerful. We are in an era where there are powerful companies that exert massive influences over our lives, yet they are so dominant that they don’t really care whether they are seen as a caring player or not. Google clearly doesn’t in its pettiness over allegedly targeting Vivaldi, and Facebook doesn’t as it gathers data and falsely accuses its own users of having malware on their machines.
   On September 1, my colleague Euan Semple wrote, ‘As tools and services provided by companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon become key parts of the infrastructure of our lives they, and their respective Chief Executives, exert increasing influence on society.
   ‘How we see ourselves individually and collectively is shaped by their products. Our ability to do things is in our hands but their control. How we educate ourselves and understand the world is steered by them. How we stay healthy, get from one place to another, and even feed and clothe ourselves is each day more dependent on them.
   ‘We used to rely on our governments to ensure the provision of these critical aspects of our lives. Our governments are out of their depth and floundering.
   ‘Are we transitioning from the nation state to some other way of maintaining and supporting our societies? How do we feel about this? Is it inevitable? Could we stop it even if we wanted?’
   The last paragraph takes us beyond the scope of this blog post, but we should be as critical of these companies as we are of our (and others’) governments, and, the European Commission excepting, I don’t think we’re taking their actions quite seriously enough.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, USA | 1 Comment »